Charles VI is convinced that his younger brother Louis, Duke d’Orleans, wants to kill him. An opinion also held by the People, which loves Charles and detests Louis. However, this cannot be written, even if certain passages from the Monk de Saint-Denis indirectly confirm the connection between the King’s “folly” and his brother’s person:
“In time, his mind was covered in darkness so thick that he completely forgot even things of which Nature should have reminded him. For example, by a strange and inexplicable bizzareness, he claimed not to be married and never to have had children; he even forgot his own person and his title of King of France, maintaining that he wasn’t called Charles, and disowned the fleurs-de-lis. When he saw his arms or those of the Queen engraved on the gold plates or elsewhere, he effaced them in fury.”
This is confirmed by the Silver Accounts, which note damages suffered by the armoried plates, the stained-glass windows, the curtains, the cushions or the embroideries with fleurs-de-lis.
“When Queen Isabeau approached, he pushed her away, saying gently to his people: ‘what is this woman whose view obsesses me? Find out if she needs something and deliver me from her persecutions and her importunities however you can, so that she doesn’t follow me everywhere like this.’.”
Charles’ aggressivity toward the Queen is such that the King is prevented from “sleeping with her”, for fear that he would attempt to kill her. In 1404, the danger is so great that Isabeau envisages fleeing France. But once more the attack passes and she remains.
Is it in the hope of a cure that, “with the Queen’s consent”, a concubine for the King is sought? Not a great deal is known about her except that she was discrete and faithful, so much so, that she was nicknamed “the little queen”. Her name is Odette de Champdivers. She is a member of one of the great servant families of the royal Hotel. “Beautiful, gracious and charming”, she partially succeeds in the task given to her: she remains near the King until his death, in 1422, and will give him a daughter. However, although she brings love and loyalty to the unhappy, tortured sovereign, she remains powerless to cure him.
Although Charles VI is unable to stand his wife during his attacks, he is very happy in the company of his sister-in-law, the Duchess d’Orleans, Valentine Visconti, married to Louis in 1389:
“He called her his beloved sister and went to see her every day”,
which awakens the suspicions of certain people, prompt to remember that
“In Lombardie, which was the Duchess’ part of the country, poisons and spells were used more than in any other”.
All the objects which set off the patient’s fury have in common that they are marked with his initials or his arms, or that they have been given to him by his brother Louis. He breaks a gold, enamelled goblet given to him by Louis in 1396 as if he fears one day to drink poison from it. On the other hand, the King has some of his outfits embroidered, rather curiously, with the arms of his sister-in-law Valentine…
Louis’ shadow is therefore omnipresent in the King’s words and in his comportment when he falls back into the illness’ clutches. Obsessively, this evidence endlessly reappears: the King believes that his brother wants to kill him. Even in the words which are apparently totally detached from reality, the trail of the brother exists, encrypted:
“He claimed to be called Georges, and that his armories were a lion traversed by a sword.”
The references to Saint George and to the lion send us to the chivalry universe in which the tormented mind of the King evolves, where we find its meaning. The lion, in the Books of Hours, is the ornament of the initial L, which sends us to the name of Louis, “that he must kill if he doesn’t want to be killed by it”. Saint George, who symbolises the spirit of chivalry, is perhaps also an image of the faithful Olivier de Clisson, the Connetable who was born on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges, was made a knight on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges and who died on the day of the Feast of Saint-Georges in April 1407… The lion pierced by the sword, is also Flanders vanquished at Roosebeke, the first great feat of arms accomplished by the young Knight-King… None of these symbols should be neglected, for the Middle Ages knight is accustomed, from his earliest years, to live surrounded by these signs in images, which are the language of his function. Imprecise images, troubled interpretations which send the mind back to events, to feelings, to convictions which it would be vain to hope to completely reconstitute today. We have become strangers to the forest of symbols and signs inseparable from the mental universe of Mediaeval Man. The sword that the patient says pierces him, the sword which kills the lion, is it Du Guesclin’s sword? The hero gave it solemnly to little Louis on the day of his baptism, invoking Saint George. Is it the one that Louis pointed toward Heaven while walking in front of his elder brother on the day of his Coronation? These diverse paths of reflection, if they cannot totally explain the mystery which surrounds Charles VI’s madness, allow us to go infinitely further than the strictly “clinical” interpretations in vogue at the beginning of the XXth Century.
The King’s “folly” is astonishing in that it explodes in brusque and limited attacks; the sick man’s capacity for recuperation is total. When he comes back to his senses, Charles accomplishes his mission of King, and returns to the intellectual qualities that this implies. Affable and generous, he is liked by all who approach him. He is present at Council, accomplishes his Christian duties, regularly receives, like all of the sovereigns in the Middle Ages, those of his subjects who come to solicit a favour. He closely follows the debates pertaining to the crisis of the Church and meets the Ambassadors, which in no way prevents him from consecrating part of his time to jousting or hunting… However, he is conscious of the chronical nature of his illness. He lives in fear of an attack which can occur at any time.
To be continued.